How to balance working ON your business vs. IN your business
“I can’t keep putting in all these hours — it’s not sustainable for me.”
“I don’t have time to hire someone; it will take time out of my business and I’m already maxed out.”
“How can I possibly make more money if I’m already working way too much?”
Ultimately, “I’m so busy with clients I don’t have time to work on anything else right now.”
In the first few years of your business, you might never have imagined it would get to this point. You were hustling for every client, doing all the marketing and all the networking you could handle. But now it’s hard to even find time to write an email to your list, let alone launch a whole new service. And yet, you know that to get to the level of income you’re looking for you need to be more efficient and profitable, which takes some attention.
Because if you face the truth, you can’t keep going at this pace forever. You’re facing burnout. You’d like to take more time off (or at least stop working evenings and weekends), and you don’t want to sacrifice your income to do it.
I hear this from entrepreneurs All. The. Time. This is my favourite type of person to work with because they’ve already done so much of the hard work. They’ve proven their business is viable, they are great at what they do, and they just need to adjust how they’re working so it’s sustainable. I don’t mean to make it sound easy — far from it. Pulling back and assuming true leadership of your business is both an art and a science. It takes inner work just as much as it takes practical strategies to strike a balance.
Even though most people want to rush to the practical strategies, they’re unlikely to work if something is off in your mind. Here are a few things to consider before you jump into the action steps:
· Do you like your business?
· Do you truly believe that working on your business is important or worthwhile?
· How do you feel about the work you do?
· Are you worried about something in your business?
· Where is self-doubt showing up?
· Are you avoiding something by focusing on client work?
· What is your relationship to your clients? Do they dictate your work pace?
· How much abundance or scarcity do you feel in your work?
· What have you learned or been taught about hard work growing up?
· What are your beliefs around money and what it takes to earn it?
Each one of those questions could be a whole coaching session, so don’t be too hard on yourself if the questions feel daunting. If you’re into journaling, you could start there.
For example, no amount of time blocking will change a belief that the harder you work the more you’re worthy of love or respect. You’ll always find ways to fill time even with the best time blocking system in the world.
Or maybe you’ve actually built yourself the wrong business. It’s possible you’re doing something you feel like you “should” be doing, so you bury yourself in work to avoid the calling of what you would really love to do instead.
As I write this article, I’m realizing that week after week I keep putting off a really cool thing I want to launch. I’m very excited about it, but I seem to always find reasons each week not to plan it. This is definitely something I’m going to talk about with my coach because I’m likely avoiding it out of fear of failure or rejection.
Despite the emphasis I’m putting on mindset here, I actually tend to work with clients in the reverse order. I give them the benefit of the doubt, and we try a practical strategy. When they implement it (or don’t) and succeed (or fail) we gather information about what’s going on behind the scenes.
If you’d like to try any of my go-to strategies for spending more time working ON your business and not just IN it, you can start with this list:
Decide how much time you actually want to work
Adding constraints to your day and week that you don’t budge makes you more creative and efficient. For me, without question I don’t work more than 9–5, Monday to Thursday. Often I work 10–4, but the absolute max I can handle is working until 5pm. If I work longer than that my family goes bananas, so I have external accountability for keeping those hours firm. I don’t work Fridays because that’s the day my partner works, so I look after our daughter. Even if I wanted to, I can’t do much more than respond to an email on those days, so I don’t. One of my clients doesn’t want to work past 1pm on Fridays, so she books lunch or coffee with a friend, so she knows she’ll finish work on time. Your work will fill the time you allow it, so start by setting firm constraints.
Plan time to work on your business (and stick to it)
This one sounds obvious, but almost no one actually puts “work on business” in their calendar as an appointment. Even fewer people do it but actually stick to it! The idea here is to block that time as “busy” so no other calls or appointments get booked during that time. This is where you really have to understand your rhythms and how you work best. Do you need a whole day to work on a project? A whole week? Just a few hours? How do you get into flow?
Trudi Lebrón has a model that I love. She does a 6-week work sprint, then takes the 7th week off as a sabbatical. It’s not a vacation, though it can be. She uses that time for all the things that are hard to get to in a typical week like reading, planning, outlining programs, and more. There’s a lot of rest, and that leads to creativity. She also does the same every Friday. What I love most is that she runs her business on this rhythm, so her team is also following suit. They don’t have meetings or calls with clients during these sabbatical days, so it’s dedicated time to work on the business and themselves.
Have a plan for your business
I work closely with Laura Posey from Simple Success Plans every year, launching and delivering her flagship program Plan to Win. Year after year I see smart, driven entrepreneurs, completely transform their business, simply by putting together a plan.
When you have a plan for your business, decisions throughout the year are so much easier. When you sit down to plan your week (you do plan your week, right?) you aren’t wondering what you should be working on because it’s already decided for you. By having dedicated time to plan, you aren’t flying by the seat of your pants or getting distracted by every shiny object that comes your way.
There seems to be a belief in most entrepreneurs that hiring help is a big deal. It feels like a momentous task that has to be done just right, and will be incredibly expensive.
The truth is, you can hire as much or as little help as you want.
The first person I ever hired was from posting an ad online that said something like “$100/month for help with social media”. My budget was only $100 and I found someone awesome who just wanted to make some extra cash while she was finishing school.
The other myth is that it needs to take a ton of time to hire help. That’s a bigger conversation for another day, but suffice it to say that it’s also possible to hire someone in a way that actually saves you time.
I have a zillion other little tips and tricks, but those are the main ones my clients implement. The key is to remember it will be a work in progress, and you’re probably not going to get the balance exactly right on your first try. That’s okay. Keep trying and keep believing that it’s possible.
To end today, I thought it could be helpful to show you the breakdown of how I spend my time. Here are two examples of recent weeks (which I can easily calculate because I schedule all my time):
As I reflect on these, I notice that I’d like to be spending more time on paying client work, and less time in courses and masterminds. For now, the time I’m spending on back-end business work and connection/research calls is manageable since those will likely lead to more client time. At least 4 hours/week is spent on writing and distributing this content, so I’ll have to reassess that commitment when my client load is larger as well.
Really, it’s all just one big fun experiment!
If you’re looking for more efficiency and profit in your business, let’s hop on a call and see what opportunities are available for you. Sometimes you might just be too close to it to see what can be done to get you to a place with more ease and fun.